Author’s Note: This article was first published on NFL Draft Bible on Sports Illustrated. You can find that article here.
“I need football,”
These are the words Adams State University’s wide receiver, Elijah Harper, lives by. As he gears up for the 2023 NFL Draft, he discusses his journey and how the game impacted him.
The Stockton, Ca. native graduated from Western Ranch in 2017. He then went to San Matteo junior college before transferring to Adams State to pursue a degree in business management and play football.
His football journey goes back to when he first wanted to play at 2 years old. Harper started playing when he was old enough and never stopped.
Because his high school wasn’t a big football school, he went to 7-on-7 tournaments where he met the coach at San Matteo junior college. In those two years, Harper didn’t receive D1 offers but did receive a D2 offer from Adams State.
Instead, Harper stayed an extra year at San Matteo to get his grades up but still didn’t receive D1 offers. He did get an offer from Adams State again, to which he took the opportunity.
“Adams State offered again, and from there, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not gonna risk it, I’m gonna go,” Harper said. “It was a real good experience for me, I think it was a big step to where I need to be mentally,” he said, alluding to not being distracted from the typical party-school atmosphere of other schools.
At Adams State, Harper had 94 receptions for 1,412 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also got one touchdown off of a kick return and punt return. He also had one receiving touchdown.
The one year he didn’t play was the COVID year, but Harper saw it as a blessing in disguise.
“COVID kind of helped me as an athlete,” he said. “That extra year helped me get to where I am now,”
Since declaring for the draft, Harper discussed the strenuous preparation that goes into potentially getting that call.
“It’s been a battle, football is a dangerous sport and physical sport,” Harper said. “Been a battle as well because I know what I’m capable of, it’s just getting eyes on me and getting in front of people and showing them what I can do,”
Though it’s a stressful process, the journey was well worth it for more and more younger players who had breakout seasons in the NFL.
“I love it, it’s showing people the next generation is coming. There’s a lot of athletes that are coming in the league now,” Harper said. “At the same time, you still have to give respect to older dudes because they paved the way for people to be here,”
One of the veterans that paved the way is Davante Adams, someone Harper looks up to.
“I’ve been following him since he was at Fresno State,” Harper said. “I could try to model my game around him in some ways, like try to take what he does sometimes and make it into my own.”
His journey of being a North California resident meant that he and his family grew up loving the San Francisco 49ers.
“Growing up, my family [are] big 49ers fans [but] if any team came and got me, I’d be grateful for that,” Harper said.
His family feels the same way, attributing this success to his early love for the game and the hard work he put into it.
“My family is really excited. When I announced that I was declaring for the draft, everybody was texting me like, ‘Oh, you’re gonna go into the NFL,’” he said. “I remember growing up, my step-brother and me playing Madden 2004.”
As Harper prepares for the draft, he mentions one part of the journey that is important for success.
“Fall in love with the process, don’t fall in love with just the outcome,” he said.”A lot of people get lost in the end game.”
This advice is rooted in what makes him a standout prospect.
“Most people say they love [football], but a lot of people are really doing it to make money. I’ve been doing this for so long, I really enjoy the game,” Harper said. “I’m not in it for the money, I’m not in it for the fame, I don’t care about the Instagram followers or blue checks, I just wanna play football.”
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